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The Palestinian Authority's West Bank security chief has sent a letter to PA security forces instructing them to vote for Fatah candidates in the upcoming Palestinian Legislative Council elections, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The letter, signed by Tarek Zeid, was sent more than two weeks ago, and said that the early voting for security forces would take place in the security barracks.
"We consider this a serious violation," said Michael Murphy, the country director of the National Democratic Institute, which in conjunction with the Carter Center is heading one of the the observer missions monitoring the January 25 elections.
Some policemen complained on Sunday that their commanders had ordered them to vote for Fatah, threatening them with dismissal.
When the Central Elections Commission received a copy of the letter some two weeks ago, it caused an uproar among CEC's board members.
"We immediately forwarded it to [PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas]," said CEC chairman Ammar Dweik. "He communicated to the interior minister [Nasser Yousef] that this is illegal and that the security forces should be encouraged to vote but not told for whom."
Nevertheless, during the same time, the PA cabinet refused to allow security forces to vote at official polling stations. The police would vote at their barracks, the cabinet decided two weeks ago.
According to NDI/CC, voting within the barracks "would create many opportunities for fraud and manipulation."
The CEC refused to accept the cabinet decision and the board members submitted their resignations, Dweik said.
"We formed an investigation committee to look into this," said PA negotiator Saeb Erekat. "I don't know if it's true or not, but we want fair elections. We will not allow such things to happen."
The battle over the vote of the security forces - whether it be fair or Fatah-forced - displays Fatah's desperation to stay in power, observers said. It also displays the limited power wielded by the CEC, which can do little more than conduct an investigation and issue a ruling - or threaten to quit.
It remains unlikely that Zeid, a senior member of Fatah, took upon himself to write the letter without instructions from those above him, but it's unclear as to who issued the order.
The election observer missions, of which there are three (the NDI/CC and representatives from the European Union and Canada), are in daily contact with the CEC, providing it with information from the long-term election observers who are located in each of the 16 Palestinian governates.
Murphy said he holds the CEC in high regard. "The fact that they can make these things public gives them influence," he said.
Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.